Protesters angry over pandemic restrictions drove toward Paris in scattered convoys in an effort to blockade the French capital – despite a police ban.
The protesters, who organised online – galvanised in part by lorry drivers who have blockaded Canada’s capital and blocked border crossings – have no clear leader or goal.
It comes after months of protests against French government vaccination and other anti-virus rules began to wane.
Authorities deployed more than 7,000 police officers to toll booths and other key sites to try to prevent a blockade.
They threatened heavy fines and other punishments for those who defy the protest ban, which authorities said was necessary to prevent “risk to public order.”
Some of the French groups are threatening to continue their journey to Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the European Union, and to meet up with drivers from other countries on Monday.
Belgian authorities also banned the threatened blockade, while a similar “freedom convoy” planned for Friday in Vienna was cancelled after authorities prohibited it.
The French protesters have shared images of HGV drivers in Canada, who have blockaded border crossings and paralysed Ottawa city centre while demanding an end to their country’s Covid-19 restrictions, including a rule for all lorry drivers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated.
Some far-right and other figures in France appeared to be trying to revitalise their own protest movements, which represent a small minority of French citizens, by capitalising on the global attention to the Canadian lorry drivers.
Those taking part in the convoys embodied a mix of causes and vehicles, from lorries to motorcycles and camper vans. Some sported yellow vests, a symbol of a French protest movement against perceived economic injustice which largely fizzled out in 2019 after the government responded to some of the participants’ concerns.
France has a very high vaccination rate, and the government is gradually easing virus restrictions.
However, after French hospitals and older adults were hit hard by repeated infection surges, health minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday it is too early for people to let their guard down.